MISSIONARY APPLICATION OF THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT.
"For the whole world." --- 1 John ii. 2.
Let us now consider the universal and ineradicable wants of man.
Such a consideration is substantially unaffected by speculation as to the theory of man's origin. Whether the first men are to be looked for by the banks of some icy river feebly shaping their arrowheads of flint, or in godlike and glorious progenitors beside the streams of Eden; whether our ancestors were the result of an inconceivably ancient evolution, or called into existence by a creative act, or sprung from some lower creature elevated in the fulness of time by a majestic inspiration, --- at least, as a matter of fact, man has other and deeper wants than those of the back and stomach. Man as he is has five spiritual instincts. How they came to be there, let it be repeated, is not the question. It is the fact of their existence, not the mode of their genesis, with which we are now concerned.
(1) There is almost, if not quite, without exception the instinct which may be generally described as the instinct of the Divine. In the wonderful address where St. Paul so fully recognises the influence of geographical circumstance and of climate, he speaks of God "having made out of one blood every nation of men to seek[Pg 107] after their Lord, if haply at least" (as might be expected) "they would feel for Him" --- like men in darkness groping towards the light. (2) There is the instinct of prayer, the "testimony of the soul naturally Christian." The little child at our knees meets us half way in the first touching lessons in the science of prayer. In danger, when the vessel seems to be sinking in a storm, it is ever as it was in the days of Jonah, when "the mariners cried every man to his God."158 There is the instinct of immortality, the desire that our conscious existence should continue beyond death.
"Who would lose, Though full of pain, this intellectual being, These thoughts that wander through eternity, To perish rather swallow'd up and lost In the wide womb of uncreated night?"
(4) There is the instinct of morality, call it conscience or what we will. The lowest, most sordid, most materialised languages are never quite without witness to this nobler instinct. Though such languages have lien among the pots, yet their wings are as the wings of a dove that is covered with silver wings and her feathers like gold. The most impoverished vocabularies have words of moral judgment, "good" or "bad;" of praise or blame, "truth and lie;" above all, those august words which recognise a law paramount to all other laws, "I must," "I ought." (5) There is the instinct of sacrifice, which, if not absolutely universal, is at least all but so --- the sense of impurity and unworthiness, which says by the very fact of bringing a victim. "I am not worthy to come alone; may my guilt be transferred to the representative which I immolate."
(1) Thus then man seeks after God. Philosophy unaided does not succeed in finding Him. The theistic systems marshal their syllogisms; they prove, but do not convince. The pantheistic systems glitter before man's eye; but when he grasps them in his feverish hand, and brushes off the mystic gold dust from the moth's wings, a death's-head mocks him. St. John has found the essence of the whole question, stripped from it all its plausible disguises, and characterises Mahommedan and Judaistic Deism in a few words. No, the philosophical deism of Christian countries comes within the scope of his terrible proposition. "Deo erexit Voltairius," was the philosopher's inscription over the porch of a church; but Voltaire had not in any true sense a God to whom he could dedicate it. For St. John tells us --- "whosoever denies, the Son, the same has not the Father." Other words there are in his Second Epistle whose full import seems to have been generally overlooked, but which are of solemn significance to those who go out from the camp of Christianity with the idea of finding a more refined morality and a more ethereal spiritualism. "Whosoever goes forward and abides not in the doctrine of Christ"; whosoever writes progress on his standard, and goes forward beyond the lines of Christ, loses natural as well as supernatural religion --- "he has not God."160 Man wants to pray. Poor disinherited child, what master of requests shall he find? Who shall interpret his broken language to God, God's infinite language to him? (3) Man yearns for the assurance of immortal life. This can best be given by one specimen of manhood risen from the[Pg 109] grave, one traveller come back from the undiscovered bourne with the breath of eternity on His cheek and its light in His eye; one like Jonah, Himself the living sign and proof that He has been down in the great deeps. (4) Man needs a morality to instruct and elevate conscience. Such a morality must possess these characteristics. It must be authoritative, resting upon an absolute will; its teacher must say, not "I think," or "I conclude," but --- "verily, verily I say to you." It must be unmixed with baser and more questionable elements. It must be pervasive, laying the strong grasp of its purity on the whole domain of thought and feeling as well as of action. It must be exemplified. It must present to us a series of pictures, of object-lessons in which we may see it illustrated. Finally, this morality must be spiritual. It must come to man, not like the Jewish Talmud with its seventy thousand precepts which few indeed can ever learn, but with a compendious and condensed, yet all-embracing brevity --- with words that are spirit and life. (5) As man knows duty more thoroughly, the instinct of sacrifice will speak with an ever-increasing intensity. "My heart is overwhelmed by the infinite purity of this law. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; let me find God and be reconciled to Him." When the old Latin spoke of propitiation he thought of something which brought near (prope); his inner thought was --- "let God come near to me, that I may be near to God." These five ultimate spiritual wants, these five ineradicable spiritual instincts, He must meet, of whom a master of spiritual truth like St. John can say with his plenitude of insight --- "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."
We shall better understand the fulness of St. John's[Pg 110] thought if we proceed to consider that this fitness in Christ for meeting the spiritual wants of humanity is exclusive.
Three great religions of the world are more or less Missionary. Hinduism, which embraces at least a hundred and ninety millions of souls, is certainly not in any sense missionary. For Hinduism transplanted from its ancient shrines and local superstitions dies like a flower without roots. But Judaism at times has strung itself to a kind of exertion almost inconsistent with its leading idea. The very word "proselyte" attests the unnatural fervour to which it had worked itself up in our Lord's time. The Pharisee was a missionary sent out by pride and consecrated by self-will. "You compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him tenfold more the child of hell than yourselves." Bouddhism has had enormous missionary success from one point of view. Not long ago it was said that it outnumbered Christendom. But it is to be observed that it finds adherents among people of only one type of thought and character. Outside these races it is and must ever be, non-existent. We may except the fanciful perversion of a few idle people in London, Calcutta, or Ceylon, captivated for a season or two by[Pg 111] "the light of Asia." We may except also a very few more remarkable cases where the esoteric principle of Bouddhism commends itself to certain profound thinkers stricken with the dreary disease of modern sentiment. Mohammedanism has also, in a limited degree, proved itself a missionary religion, not only by the sword. In British India it counts millions of adherents, and it is still making some progress in India. In other ages whole Christian populations (but belonging to heretical and debased forms of Christianity) have gone over to Mohammedanism. Let us be just to it. It once elevated the pagan Arabs. Even now it elevates the Negro above his fetisch. But it must ever remain a religion for stationary races, with its sterile God and its poor literality, the dead book pressing upon it with a weight of lead. Its merits are these --- it inculcates a lofty if sterile Theism; it fulfils the pledge conveyed in the word Moslem, by inspiring a calm if frigid resignation to destiny; it teaches the duty of prayer with a strange impressiveness. But whole realms of thought and feeling are crushed out by its bloody and lustful grasp. It is without purity, without tenderness, and without humility.
Thus then we come back again with a truer insight to the exclusive fitness of Christ to meet the wants of mankind.
Others beside the Incarnate Lord have obtained from a portion of their fellow-men some measure of passionate enthusiasm. Each people has a hero, call him demigod, or what we will. But such men are idolised by one race alone, and are fashioned after its likeness. The very qualities which procure them an[Pg 112] apotheosis are precisely those which prove how narrow the type is which they represent; how far they are from speaking to all humanity. A national type is a narrow and exclusive type.
No European, unless effeminated and enfeebled, could really love an Asiatic Messiah. But Christ is loved everywhere. No race or kindred is exempt from the sweet contagion produced by the universal appeal of the universal Saviour. From all languages spoken by the lips of man, hymns of adoration are offered to Him. We read in England the Confessions of St. Augustine. Those words still quiver with the emotions of penitence and praise; still breathe the breath of life. Those ardent affections, those yearnings of personal love to Christ, which filled the heart of Augustine fifteen centuries ago, under the blue sky of Africa, touch us even now under this grey heaven in the fierce hurry of our modern life. But they have in them equally the possibility of touching the Shanar of Tinnevelly, the Negro --- even the Bushman, or the native of Terra del Fuego. By a homage of such diversity and such extent we recognise a universal Saviour for the universal wants of universal man, the fitting propitiation for the whole world.
Towards the close of this Epistle St. John oracularly utters three great canons of universal Christian consciousness --- "we know," "we know," "we know." Of these three canons the second is --- "we know that we are from God, and the world lies wholly in the wicked one." "A characteristic Johannic exaggeration"! some critic has exclaimed; yet surely even in Christian lands where men lie outside the influences of the Divine society, we have only to read the Police-reports to justify the Apostle. In volumes of travels, again, in the[Pg 113] pages of Darwin and Baker, from missionary records in places where the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations, we are told of deeds of lust and blood which almost make us blush to bear the same form with creatures so degraded. Yet the very same missionary records bear witness that in every race which the Gospel proclamation has reached, however low it may be placed in the scale of the ethnologist; deep under the ruins of the fall are the spiritual instincts, the affections which have for their object the infinite God, and for their career the illimitable ages. The shadow of sin is broad indeed. But in the evening light of God's love the shadow of the cross is projected further still into the infinite beyond. Missionary success is therefore sure, if it be slow. The reason is given by St. John. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the whole world."
Ch. i. 5 to ii. 2.
Ver. 5. The Word, the Life, the Light, are connected in the first chapter as in John i. 3, 4, 5. Upon earth, behind all life is light; in the spiritual world, behind all light is life.
Darkness.] The schoolmen well said that there is a fourfold darkness --- of nature, of ignorance, of misery, of sin. The symbol of light applied to God must designate perfect goodness and beauty, combined with blissful consciousness of it, and transparent luminous clearness of wisdom.
Ver. 7. The blood of Jesus His Son] Sc. poured forth. This word (the Blood) denotes more vividly and effectively than any other could do three great realities of the Christian belief --- the reality of the Manhood of Jesus, the reality of His sufferings, the reality of His sacrifice. It is dogma; but dogma made pictorial, pathetic, almost passionate. It may be noted that much current thought and feeling around us is just at the opposite extreme. It is a semi-doketism which is manifested in two different forms. (1) Whilst[Pg 114] it need not be denied that there are hymns which are pervaded by an ensanguined materialism, and which are calculated to wound reverence, as well as taste; it is clear that much criticism on hymns and sermons, where the "Blood of Jesus" is at all appealed to, has an ultra-refinement which is unscriptural and rationalistic. It is out of touch with St. Paul (Col. i. 14-20), with the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. ix. 14) (a passage strikingly like this verse), with St. Peter (1 Pet. i. 19), with St. John in this Epistle, with the redeemed in heaven (Apoc. v. 9). (2) A good deal of feeling against representations in sacred art seems to have its origin in this sort of unconscious semi-doketism. It appears to be thought that when representation supersedes symbolism, Christian thought and feeling necessarily lose everything and gain nothing. But surely it ought to be remembered that for a being like man there are two worlds, one of ideas, the other of facts; one of philosophy, the other of history. The one is filled with things which are conceived, the other with things which are done. One contents itself with a shadowy symbol, the other is not satisfied except by a concrete representation. So we venture respectfully to think that the image of the dead Christ is not foreign to Scripture or Scriptural thought; simply because, as a fact, He died. Calvary, the tree, the wounds, were not ideal. The crucifixion was not a symbol for dainty and refined abstract theorists. The form of the Crucified was not veiled by silver mists and crowned with roses. He who realises the meaning of the "Blood of Jesus," and is consistent, will not be severe upon the expression of the same thought in another form.
"Note that which Estius has upon the blood of his Son, that in them there is a confutation of three heresies at once: the Manichees, who deny the truth of Christ's human nature, since, as Alexander said of his wound, clamat me esse hominem, it proclaimeth me a man, we may say of His blood, for had He not been man He could not have bled, have died; the Ebionites, who deny Him to be God, since, being God's natural Son, He must needs be of the same essence with Himself; and the Nestorians, who make two persons, which, if true, the blood of Christ the man could not have been called the blood of Christ the Son of God."
"That which I conceive here chiefly to be taken notice of is, that our Apostle contents not himself to say the blood of Jesus Christ, but he adds His Son, to intimate to us how this blood became available to our cleansing, to wit, as it was the blood not merely of the Son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Man, but of Him who was also the Son of God."
"Behold, O sinner, the exceeding love of your Saviour, who, that He might cleanse you when polluted in your blood, was pleased to shed His own blood. Indeed, the pouring out of Christ's blood was a super-excellent work of charity; hence it is that these two are joined together; and when the Scripture speaks, of His love, it presently annexeth His sufferings. We read, that when Christ wept for Lazarus, John xi. 36, the standers by said, "See how He loved him." Surely if His tears, much more His blood, proclaimeth His affection towards us. The Jews were the scribes, the nails were the pens, His body the white paper, and His blood the red ink; and the characters were love, exceeding love, and these so fairly written that he which runs may read them. I shut up this with that of devout Bernard, Behold and look upon the rose of His bloody passion, how His redness bespeaketh His flaming love, there being, as it were, a contention between His passion and affection: this, that it might be hotter; that, that it might be redder. Nor had His sufferings been so red with blood had not His heart been inflamed with love. Oh let us beholding magnify, magnifying admire, and admiring praise Him for His inestimable goodness, saying with the holy Apostle (Rev. i. 5), 'To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His blood, be honour and glory for ever.'" --- Dean Hardy (pp. 77, 78.) Observe on this verse its unison of thought and feeling with Apoc. i. 5, xxii. 14.
Chap. ii. 1. We have an Advocate] literally Paraclete. One called in to aid him whose cause is to be tried or petition considered. The word is used only by St. John, four times in the Gospel, of the Holy Ghost; once here of Christ.
"And now, O you drooping sinner, let me bespeak you in[Pg 116] St. Austin's language: You committest your cause to an eloquent lawyer, and art safe; how canst you miscarry, when you hast the Word to be your advocate? Let me put this question to you: If, when you sinnest, you hadst all the angels, saints, confessors, martyrs, in those celestial mansions to beg your pardon, do you think they would not speed? I tell you, one word out of Christ's mouth is more worth than all their conjoined entreaties. When, therefore, your daily infirmities discourage you, or particular falls affright you, imagine with thyself that you heardst your advocate pleading for you in these or the like expressions: O My loving Father, look upon the face of Your Anointed; behold the hands, and feet, and side of Your crucified Christ! I had no sins of My own for which I thus suffered; no, it was for the sins of this penitent wretch, who in My name sued for pardon! Father, I am Your Son, the Son of Your love, Your bosom, who plead with You; it is for Your child, Your returning penitent child, I plead. That for which I pray is no more than what I paid for; I have merited pardon for all that come to Me! Oh let those merits be imputed, and that pardon granted to this poor sinner! Cheer up, then, you disconsolate soul, Christ is an advocate for you, and therefore do not despair, but believe; and believing, rejoice; and rejoicing, triumph." --- Dean Hardy (pp. 128, 129). In these days, when petitions to Jesus to pray for us have crept into hymns and are creeping into liturgies, it may be well to note that in the remains of the early saints and in the solemn formulas of the Christian Church, Christ is not asked to pray for us, but to hear our prayers. The Son is prayed to; the Father is prayed to through the Son; the Son is never prayed to pray to the Father. (See Greg. Nazianz., Oratio xxx., Theologiæ iv., de Filio. See Thomassin, Dogm. Theol., lib. ix., cap. 6, Tom. iv. 220, 227.)
Ver. 2. Not for ours only.] This large-hearted afterthought reminds one of St. Paul's "corrective and ampliative" addition; of his chivalrous abstinence from exclusiveness in thought or word, when having dictated "Jesus Christ our Lord," his voice falters, and he feels constrained to say --- "both theirs, and ours" (1 Cor. i. 2).
From The Epistles Of St. John by WILLIAM ALEXANDER, D.D., D.C.L. Oxon., Hon. LL.D. Dublin, published by Hodder and Stoughton, 27, Paternoster Row, MDCCCXCVI Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Epistles of John 1/2 - W. Alexander
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.